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Sharon Katz: on the train of peace

“I find Tijuanans to be extremely warm, kind and fun-loving.”

Sharon Katz & The Peace Train perform at Camp Jam in The Pines Festival.
Sharon Katz & The Peace Train perform at Camp Jam in The Pines Festival.

Sharon Katz has gone all over the world promoting peace, love, and unity. She performed for Nelson Mandela. She jumped out of airplanes in South Africa to rock the vote in that country’s first multi-racial election.

But more recently, she’s settled in Tijuana.

“A documentary was made about [our band] The Peace Train, called When Voices Meet,” Katz explains. The story was so beautifully woven together by our executive producer Marilyn Cohen, and director Nancy Sutton Smith; people wanted to see it all around the world, and it was selected by over 30 film festivals and won many awards. When it screened in Toronto, someone in the audience asked us to bring it to San Diego, and said they would fill the house and host us for this visit. And that’s what happened in 2017.”

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“A member of the San Diego Peacemakers Fund attended one of the screenings.... She asked if we were willing to do work across the USA border in Tijuana. We immediately agreed. We were introduced to Alida Guajardo de Cervantes, the president of the... PBA [Promotora de las Bellas Artes] that we now work with, and it’s been a dynamic and creative collaboration for the past two years. We have the same vision, which is to empower youth and communities, using music as a medium.”

Sharon Katz with Nelson Mandela after her performance at his 70th birthday party.

Katz says the PBA is the reason for her move. “[The organizations] has been going strong for 28 years, just like we have, working with school children, giving them skills in music and in life.... PBA hires music teachers to go out to the schools, and I also play that role in the organization. I teach children guitar, and I use my skills as a music therapist with boys and girls who have been rescued from child trafficking.”

Asked for a treasured local memory, Katz says “I was playing with my band at the World Beat Center in Balboa Park, on July 18, 2018, to honor Nelson Mandela’s birthday and kick off our Transcending Barriers tour in the San Diego-Tijuana region. We collaborated with Robert Belcher from San Diego on percussion and Casey Jones from LA on drums. The following day we crossed the border into Mexico with San Diego families and children, and in Tijuana we were met by 200 Mexican children from the choirs of PBA. We sang and paraded throught the streets of Tijuana to the performing arts center, CECUT, to perform a beautiful concert there all together.”

“The best experience I’ve had performing in Tijuana was with 1500 children at the Palenque Stadium in Morelos Park on June 9th, 2019. It was thrilling to perform with my band and an orchestra from Tijuana, and to hear all the children singing a song I wrote for them called ‘Vamos en el Tren de la Paz’ [We Go On the Train of Peace] plus traditional South African songs like our famous ‘Shosholoza,’ and other original compositions.”

“To prepare for this performance, I traveled to about 50 schools where PBA has choirs that they direct. I taught all the Mexican children the songs, much as I did with the South African children in 1992 when we staged the first Peace Train tour.”

Still exploring by her own admission, Katz has already found much to love. “I came to live here in February [2020] to see how I would enjoy living here and indeed I did, even though Covid-19 came down like a ton of bricks and messed up the whole live music scene, as well as our exciting and dynamic in-person work in schools and children’s homes.”

As for the city’s dangerous reputation, she shrugs that off. “I’ve lived in Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa and Philadelphia and New York in the USA, among other cities in the world, and yes, like many complex cities, some sections do get a reputation as being dangerous. But I’m a peacemaker and I don’t move in the drug scene or narco-culture so I find Tijuanans to be extremely warm, kind and fun-loving. I rent an apartment in a beautiful neighborhood, and as I get to know the city I don’t feel unsafe at all.”

“The atmosphere is relaxed, people are very friendly. It’s just a shame that Mexicans can’t cross to the USA right now and that there aren’t more opportunities for people to mix and dispel stereotypes. People here are very respectful and there are strict protocols for the covid situation, so I feel that Tijuana is truly a great place to live.”

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Sharon Katz & The Peace Train perform at Camp Jam in The Pines Festival.
Sharon Katz & The Peace Train perform at Camp Jam in The Pines Festival.

Sharon Katz has gone all over the world promoting peace, love, and unity. She performed for Nelson Mandela. She jumped out of airplanes in South Africa to rock the vote in that country’s first multi-racial election.

But more recently, she’s settled in Tijuana.

“A documentary was made about [our band] The Peace Train, called When Voices Meet,” Katz explains. The story was so beautifully woven together by our executive producer Marilyn Cohen, and director Nancy Sutton Smith; people wanted to see it all around the world, and it was selected by over 30 film festivals and won many awards. When it screened in Toronto, someone in the audience asked us to bring it to San Diego, and said they would fill the house and host us for this visit. And that’s what happened in 2017.”

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“A member of the San Diego Peacemakers Fund attended one of the screenings.... She asked if we were willing to do work across the USA border in Tijuana. We immediately agreed. We were introduced to Alida Guajardo de Cervantes, the president of the... PBA [Promotora de las Bellas Artes] that we now work with, and it’s been a dynamic and creative collaboration for the past two years. We have the same vision, which is to empower youth and communities, using music as a medium.”

Sharon Katz with Nelson Mandela after her performance at his 70th birthday party.

Katz says the PBA is the reason for her move. “[The organizations] has been going strong for 28 years, just like we have, working with school children, giving them skills in music and in life.... PBA hires music teachers to go out to the schools, and I also play that role in the organization. I teach children guitar, and I use my skills as a music therapist with boys and girls who have been rescued from child trafficking.”

Asked for a treasured local memory, Katz says “I was playing with my band at the World Beat Center in Balboa Park, on July 18, 2018, to honor Nelson Mandela’s birthday and kick off our Transcending Barriers tour in the San Diego-Tijuana region. We collaborated with Robert Belcher from San Diego on percussion and Casey Jones from LA on drums. The following day we crossed the border into Mexico with San Diego families and children, and in Tijuana we were met by 200 Mexican children from the choirs of PBA. We sang and paraded throught the streets of Tijuana to the performing arts center, CECUT, to perform a beautiful concert there all together.”

“The best experience I’ve had performing in Tijuana was with 1500 children at the Palenque Stadium in Morelos Park on June 9th, 2019. It was thrilling to perform with my band and an orchestra from Tijuana, and to hear all the children singing a song I wrote for them called ‘Vamos en el Tren de la Paz’ [We Go On the Train of Peace] plus traditional South African songs like our famous ‘Shosholoza,’ and other original compositions.”

“To prepare for this performance, I traveled to about 50 schools where PBA has choirs that they direct. I taught all the Mexican children the songs, much as I did with the South African children in 1992 when we staged the first Peace Train tour.”

Still exploring by her own admission, Katz has already found much to love. “I came to live here in February [2020] to see how I would enjoy living here and indeed I did, even though Covid-19 came down like a ton of bricks and messed up the whole live music scene, as well as our exciting and dynamic in-person work in schools and children’s homes.”

As for the city’s dangerous reputation, she shrugs that off. “I’ve lived in Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa and Philadelphia and New York in the USA, among other cities in the world, and yes, like many complex cities, some sections do get a reputation as being dangerous. But I’m a peacemaker and I don’t move in the drug scene or narco-culture so I find Tijuanans to be extremely warm, kind and fun-loving. I rent an apartment in a beautiful neighborhood, and as I get to know the city I don’t feel unsafe at all.”

“The atmosphere is relaxed, people are very friendly. It’s just a shame that Mexicans can’t cross to the USA right now and that there aren’t more opportunities for people to mix and dispel stereotypes. People here are very respectful and there are strict protocols for the covid situation, so I feel that Tijuana is truly a great place to live.”

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May 12, 2021
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